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Getting a big bang out of a big band

EVERY now and then The Companion and I get dressed to the nine and head to the Sydney Opera House (if we’re in Sydney) or to Hamer Hall (if we’re in Melbourne) to experience a symphony orchestra in full flight.

 

Really, there are few sounds, man-made or otherwise, that come anywhere near a full orchestra at the peak of its power. There’s a reason engine noises and exhaust notes are sometimes referred to as “symphonic”. When every part of the whole works in perfect synch, the effect can transport you from an uncomfortable concert-house seat to another plane altogether.

 

That’s the reason I go: for the hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments, and the moments that Madam Wheels readers might understand if I describe, in a musical idiom, as climaxes. Music does that to me, and I’m grateful, and that’s why I keep going back. The Companion apparently goes to catch up on sleep.

Annoyingly, though, even if he might clearly be comatose for part of the performance, he can just about hum back the entire performance afterwards. I hate him for that. I also hate him when he refers to the orchestra as “the band”.

 

There’s a certain etiquette that one should observe at the symphony. Some people think it’s all very stuffy and old-fashioned, but it serves a useful purpose. At least it does for me. Say you’re at a rock concert. You can jump up and down and scream and yell whenever (and whatever) you like at, say, Mick Fleetwood on-stage (which I’ll be doing in August), and so there’s a sort of constant dilution or expending of energy throughout the show. At the symphony you can’t expend energy gradually like that; it is pent-up and release, when it comes, is a total rush, amplified by that anticipation.

 

‘It’s not only rude to clap at the wrong time, chatter and honk, but as a matter of pure practicality it detracts from the experience.’

However, over the past few performances I’ve noticed an irritating and worrying trend that’s undermining this effect. There’s been applause between movements; and there’s even been chatter during the actual performance.

At one concert an elderly gentleman (it MUST have been a man) honked like a fat goose into his handkerchief at the exact moment the soloist was about to launch into the second movement. By sheer luck alone the pianist had not made contact with the keys and so could stop, compose herself, if you’ll pardon the pun, and begin again. If I could have turned around and punched the snot-nosed simpleton in the face, I would have done so.

It’s not only rude to clap at the wrong time, chatter and honk, but as a matter of pure practicality it detracts from the experience. It stymies the build-up of tension as great music really well played, builds gradually to a crescendo – and then … and then … bliss! The effect simply cannot be the same when someone is talking all the way through it about a recent holiday or whether they remembered to put the bins out.


I understand that they’re trying to popularise classical music and the performances of Melbourne and Sydney’s respective symphony orchestras. That is a good thing – I think as many people as possible should be exposed to them; they would be hooked for life. Not everyone wants to get dressed up the way The Companion and I do, and that’s fair enough. And I concede that it does not matter a fig what you’re wearing because clothing does not (or at least it should not) make any sound and distract from the performance. But everyone can keep their mouths shut, surely? And stay off the damn phone – if even for just one hour at a time, each side of the interval?


I can only suppose that the offenders I’m describing are simply ignorant of one of the great unspoken pleasures of the symphony. It’s like those for whom the pinnacle of automotive artistry is a Commodore or a Falcon. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you haven’t been made aware of a broader range of alternatives that you can really say you’ve made an informed choice.


If the rock show is all anyone knows, it’s understandable that the hidden pleasures of a symphony performance will pass them by, and that’s a shame. A rock show is a two-hour priapic, orgiastic spectacle; the symphony is all about foreplay, timing, advance and withdrawal and, ultimately, release. Call me old-fashioned, but that’s the kind of performance I’m really into.

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From Little Things, Big McLaren Super Cars Grow

MCLAREN Automotive has taken hand-built cars to a new level with the construction of a full-sized replica of its Ultimate Series McLaren Senna – this one made entirely of LEGO.

It’s the second time the technology company-cum-super car maker has collaborated with the iconic Danish toy manufacturer to put life-sized wheels on to a 1: -sized model of its vehicle. The first one a couple of years ago was a 720S from the brand’s Sports Series line.Real car parts were used for the first its in the Senna as part of the build, which took 5000 hours to complete from design and development to completion. Ten model makers worked in secret shifts to piece together the car, using almost half a million components over 2725 hours.

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Finished in Victory Grey and identifiable McLaren contrasting orange highlights, the replica features the real Senna’s lightweight carbon-fibre driving seat, steering wheel and pedals. Authentic McLaren badges have also been fitted along with Pirelli tyres exactly as they would be specified on the real deal. Even the working dihedral doors are built of LEGO.

Once behind the wheel, those who experience the car will be able to get a sense of its 335 km/h top speed via a simulated engine, and activate the model’s working lights and infotainment system. McLaren says it could have built nine versions of the real McLaren Senna in that same time – those cars were hand-built over 300 hours. And given that the real version – which sold out when it was announced in 2017 at more than $A1.3 million a car – we know where McLaren’s efforts would be best directed.

 

 

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Lamborghini Urus Charges Towards Legendary Status

LAMBORGHINI’S are standout cars in any crowd, with their super-sport DNA and branding drawn from ancient mythology. But put the raging-bull badge on to Australia’s favored sports-utility form and paint it bright yellow, then attention becomes unavoidable.

So Madam Wheels discovered within hours of collecting the marque’s all-new “super sports utility vehicle”, the Urus, returning from a short excursion to find a parking fine slapped on to the windscreen. Some suspect the car was penalized simply by virtue of its brand, others because of its high-vis hue (Giallo Auge, named after a priestess from Greek legend). In truth it had probably overstayed its hour-long welcome, though Stonnington Council’s parking police surely wouldn’t have paid such close attention to a car of less-impressive constitution.

The Urus is indeed a formidable vehicle and is designed to attract the influential female buyer even though there’s not much that’s conventionally feminine about it. It’s loud, it’s aggressive and it’s very, very wide. But none of that matters because this car is all about emotion, energy and excitement and it’s just so much fun to drive. Women – and men – are going to buy it in droves, and they’ll be plenty happy they did, too. Tech heads, particularly, are going to enjoy this car.

Not only is it powerful, luxurious and pleasing on the eye, driving it, for me, felt like coming home. The engine and a lot of the Urus’ functionality matched what I have in my daily drive of the past three years, an Audi RS6. Everything was where I expected it to be and completely intuitive. Plus, three years is a long time in tech terms, so the improvements – particularly in driver assistance and safety features such as the adaptive-cruise control, blind-spot warning and lane-change assist functions (all standard in the Urus) – were next-level.

‘The most aggressive behavior encountered towards the Urus in the three days I had it was enthusiastic tailgating by city drivers trying to film it with their smart phones.’

The number of cameras and sensors on this car provide views of every conceivable angle. It can look around corners and even prevent the doors being opened if it senses an oncoming vehicle or bike – a handy feature in cycle-mad Melbourne. There was much more besides, which I’ll get into in a moment. On first collecting the Urus from Lamborghini Melbourne, I started steeling myself for what might await me on the mean streets of the city. The last time I drove a Lamborghini here, someone threw an egg at the car. I needn’t have worried. The most aggressive behavior encountered towards the Urus in the three days I had it was enthusiastic tailgating by city drivers trying to film it with their smart phones, inching ever closer to its imposing rear-end with devices balanced on steering wheels. It was risky business, so I blasted out of town.

And blast the Urus does, literally roaring to life at the push of a red fighter-jet style ignition button, even with the car set in the most sedate Strada (“Street”) drive mode. Lamborghini has called its drive modes Anima – or “Soul” – and switching through them provides all sorts of sensory pleasure. Not only can the changes in engine timbre and tension be heard and felt with every shift of the driving dynamic selector lever, beautiful graphics on the top of two infotainment touch screens show the car cycling through relevant landscapes, too. Strada features a city, Sport and Corsa (“Race”) glow orange and red, and so on for Sabbia, Terre and Neve (“Sand”, “Land” and “Snow”). The ambient lighting inside the car switches appropriately, too.

Relevant height changes determined by terrain selection are also presented on screen, while the digital instrument cluster in front of the driver changes radically to depict drive modes, with an off-road graph showing the vehicle’s pitch, angle and roll, as well as its height above sea level, the direction it’s facing and the latitude. I like knowing that stuff. Purists can further fine-tune adjustments to drive train, steering and suspension with an “Ego” mode lever. Yes, much of this is probably theatrics. But it provides a feel-good factor for anyone riding in this car that can’t be discounted.

Otherwise, everything’s pretty much run by touch in the Urus, with the infotainment screens providing haptic feedback – a feature we’re familiar with on our smart phones but is unique in a car. The lower screen acts as the climate-control centre where temperatures can be adjusted by tapping or sliding up and down. Seat heating, ventilation and massage capability – the latter two are options – operate from here, too.

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Rear seating comes in a four- or five-seat configurations and can be folded flat to boost the already generous luggage capacity from a very un-Lambo-like 616 litres to an enormous 1600 litres.

Lamborghini, like every other modern car marque producing SUVs these days, hopes to capture the influential female buyer with the Urus given our propensity to favour the high-riding, spacious body often perceived as offering more safety by virtue of its size and presence. That last point doesn’t take into account these heavier vehicles’ reaction times, of course.

Carbon fibre may have helped the Urus get around that issue, but the only piece of that material used in the car’s construction is on the fuel cap. The Urus is built of a mix of aluminium, steel and magnesium, leaving it tipping the scales at a hefty 2.2 tonnes. Despite that, it feels light as a whip and as stable as they get in quick turns, and the stopping power of its massive carbon fibre brakes is phenomenal. Which is a good thing because, despite its weight, the Urus is fast, speeding from a standing-stop to 100 km/h in 3.6 seconds. The last time I felt that sort of G-force in a car at take-off was in a Tesla model X P100D in Ludicrous mode. And there’s no electric power train moving the Urus yet, though a hybrid variant is on the cards in future. For now, you’ll be dealing with a 4.0 litre V8 twin-turbo engine, the fuel consumption of which sits at a claimed 12.3 L/100 km. (One local automotive journalist says his off-road test drive measured it at 50 L/100 km, which doesn’t sound outside the realms of possibility.)

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There were a few things not to enjoy about the Urus, though I suspect one would adjust to them fairly quickly given how much there is to enjoy about the car. First is that, for the first time ever, Lamborghini has decided to attach the paddle indicators to either side of the steering wheel rather than the column. That means the right or left indicators move in line with the wheel, often ending up upside down on the opposite side of the wheel, which makes it tricky to work out which side is which if the need arises to indicate your way out of a turn. That happens surprisingly frequently, I found.

The Lamborghini logo in the middle of the wheel provides a good guide of orientation, but that requires taking one’s eyes off the road which, coupled with the unwanted distraction of trying to locate the relevant indicator, makes for the exact opposite of pure driving pleasure. Secondly, the back window isn’t exactly large, so there’s a terrible blind spot on the rear left of the car. So the improved blind-spot capability on the passenger-side mirror is absolutely essential.

Then there’s the gigantic width of the car – more than 2m across, and that’s before the mirrors are factored in. It’s something to keep in mind if you’re not comfortable parking in tight spaces or travelling in compact traffic. The gutter rash Melbourne’s blue stone gutters could cause on the Urus’ 23-inch diamond polished rims didn’t bear thinking about. There’s little doubt the Urus would do a good job of pushing back if it needed to – its name means “auroch”, after all, an ancestor of modern cattle. I’ve also seen it translated as a “shaggy, long-horned wild ox”, long since extinct. That hardly seems a fitting descriptor for the Urus, however, given its life has just begun. At any rate, if things go the way they’re looking they will, the Urus may well be on the road to becoming the stuff of legend.

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Project 8 Propels Jaguar Into The ‘Seriously Fast’ Lane

VICTORIA’S sinister speed cameras have become an occupational hazard for Madam Wheels, given their full-throttle roll out into low-speed zones across Melbourne.

So, imagine my delight recently when I was given permission to absolutely punch the accelerator in a high-performance car to reach speeds of up to 240 km/h – all the while in the company of an off-duty NSW police officer who’d been assigned as my designated driving instructor beside me. Poor guy. There’s no way that man was having as good a time as I was as I tore down the back straight of Sandown Racecourse with helmets on and roll bars in place.

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Oblivious to his probable mounting terror, my laser focus was fixed on the witch’s hat ahead marking the beginning of the next apex. Braking hard, I rode the curb and traced the imaginary line-of-fire before shooting off again like a fuel-starved wildcat bearing down on prey. Which was apropos, really, given that Jaguar Land Rover had organised this April track day to showcase its fastest and most powerful road car to date, the Jaguar XE SV Project 8.

‘My brave drive instructor may have been in need of a wardrobe change at the end of our track time together [and was] undoubtedly pleased to be returning to his day job with the NSW constabulary.’

The Project 8 is indeed a beast, and a rare one at that. Only 300 will be produced globally, all of them left-hand drive, which means, in Australia, its use will largely be confined to race tracks like Sandown. The Project 8’s already a proven force in a track environment, having secured fastest-lap rights for a four-door saloon on the famed German Nürburgring track. It chewed through the “The Green Hell’s” 26 km in a searing 7 minutes 21.23 seconds, an 11 second improvement over the previous saloon table leader, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. This was certainly gratifying for the engineers at the British-based Jaguar Land Rover Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) Technical Center who’d been tasked with producing the fastest and most powerful production car Jaguar had ever produced.

They started by dropping their biggest engine into the most compact sedan in the Jaguar fleet, the XE, on which 75 per cent of the body panels are now bespoke. Within that, every race-ready feature has been fitted for a reason, such as the front air vent which is positioned to more efficiently cool the ginormous, 592-horsepower, 5.0-litre, supercharged V8 engine.

Despite such heft under the bonnet, engineers managed to keep the weight down by using carbon fibre for the hood, bumpers, fenders, side skirts, splitter and rear spoiler and forging it on to the Project 8’s lightweight aluminium frame. The front splitter and rear spoiler’s angle can even be manually adjusted to reduce drag or add down force, depending on what a driver might be trying to achieve at any given moment.

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All of this helps the Project 8 to a top speed of 322 km/h and its capacity to blast to 100 km/h in 3.7 seconds. Needless to say, this would-be race driver felt like the real deal as I strapped into the carbon racing seats fitted as part of an optional “Track Pack”, complete with four-point harness.

Blasting along the Sandown track, the Project 8 was agile though the corners and blindingly fast on the straights which might have been terrifying for my instructor but didn’t worry me because I knew the car was fitted with the biggest brakes in the brand.

They’re dressed with unique 20” forged alloy wheels which are stronger and lighter than your standard cast alloy and specially designed to reduce drag. I felt every bump and cornering dynamic acutely during the drive, but I was meant to. The Project 8 is built to help drivers react with better precision more quickly, so includes motor-sports derived suspension and a modified all-wheel-drive system.

 

The only outstanding feature which added no apparent speed advantage to the Project 8 I piloted were the decals of the big cat pouncing. They looked cool, though – especially on the Valencia Orange duco, a special SVO hue – so might hasten sales for those happy to pay the big bucks for a car which may need a trailer to get it from A to B.

Australian pricing for Project 8 starts from $325,000 for the four-seat variant, with the more-expensive two-seater coming in from $349,000. At least you won’t have to worry about on-road costs, especially Victoria’s incoming expanded luxury car tax – or our State’s in numerous speed cameras.As for my brave drive instructor, I suspect Brett Kuhner may have been in need of a wardrobe change at the end of our track time together. He’ll undoubtedly have been pleased to be returning to his day job with the NSW constabulary.

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Yeah, nah, I’m not doing that

POOTLING around on one of my favourite websites on the weekend, I clicked on a link to an article that looked promising, to be met with a largely blank page and the slightly mischievous message: “403 Forbidden: The server understood the request, but is refusing to fulfill it.”

 

It used to be that technology referred to anything that man invented or designed or manufactured to make a task, or indeed life, easier. It was dumb, it was inanimate, and it simply served a purpose. Today’s technology comes with ’tude (as my god-daughter might say).

 

When a chimpanzee fashions a stalk of grass into a rudimentary tool to extract termites from a nest, that’s an example of technology – a tool created to perform a task more effectively than its inventor could do it on their own. The chimp doesn’t want the grass going all PETA on it and demanding that it stop exploiting insects. When I fire up the Maserati I don’t want a disembodied electronic voice telling me the Ferrari F12tdf would have been better – especially in yellow, and you should have done it when you had the chance, you loser.

Today, when we think of technology we tend to preface the word with “high” (and then abbreviate it to “high-tech”), and we think of it most often as being electronic. It’s becoming increasingly complex, pushing into the realms of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, and it appears that we’ve already arrived at a juncture where we have websites that can just decide not to do their jobs.

 

 

‘It could be that technology is currently navigating its difficult adolescence and it’s getting all uppity about being asked to do things it doesn’t want to do.’

On the one hand, I do not want my technology taking matters into its own hands and deciding what it will or will not do for me. If I want to ask Alexa to order me some thickened cream, a pair of fluffy handcuffs and a cardboard cut-out of David Tennant (for whatever reasons I may have, which are none of your business), I don’t want her to suddenly become the morality police and refuse. Or worse, choose for herself a cardboard cut-out of someone else.

 

But on the other hand, I am sort of attracted to the idea of moody tech, and if I ask Alexa to buy me some clothes online, I’m OK with her (does tech actually have a gender?) laughing and telling me to go ahead if I want, but my bum is going to look enormous in that.

It could just be that technology is currently navigating its difficult adolescence and it’s getting all uppity about being asked to do things it doesn’t want to do and is embarrassed to be around us. That’s a possibility already hinted at by Arthur C Clarke in 2001: A Space Odyssey all those years ago when HAL, the computer onboard the spaceship, goes hormonal on Dave. (I am assuming tech does NOT have a gender.)


I always thought that when the robot revolution comes, perhaps the most terrifying aspect will be just how relentless our opponents are, created, as they will be, to do their jobs and just keep on doing them – like Arnie, in the first Terminator movie. But if they’re able to decide for themselves – “Yeah, nah, I’m not doing that” – when given a command, then maybe we’ll be in with a chance that they’ll decide global domination and destroying the humans is just too much of, you know, a hassle.


When a leading expert on AI was asked recently if he feared the rise of the machines, he answered somewhat blithely, no, he did not, as long as we keep making them with the “off” switch fairly easily accessible. I don’t mind robots making my cars, if I can’t have them hand-crafted as readily any more, but I really don’t want to think about what happens when robots start making other robots.

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Women Drive Record Run For Rolls-Royce: CEO

When one thinks of a typical Rolls-Royce driver, a well-turned-out, be suited older gentleman – perhaps conducting business in the spacious back seat – may come to mind. But modern-day buyers couldn’t be more different – they’re increasingly younger, increasingly female and increasingly in the driver’s seat herself.

Sure, there’s likely to be a chauffeur on hand if the need arises. But as new business models and the ever-evolving IT landscape enable serious sums of money to be made from a much younger age, this pinnacle-of-luxury brand is benefiting from record levels of interest from buyers who are often new to the brand. That trend is only likely to amplify this year as Rolls-Royce starts delivering its all-new high-sided crossover, Cullinan.

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Nobody could be more delighted about this than Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ chief executive officer, Torsten Müller-Ötvös, who met with local media in Melbourne in the lead to the Australian Grand Prix. Quietly spoken and quick to smile, Müller-Ötvös could be the poster-boy Rolls owner. He exudes confidence and success, and if he’s prone to arrogance, it was kept in check during the interview at the Rolls-Royce showroom in inner suburban Richmond.

In the course of our 30-minute chat, he waved off the prospect of a hard Brexit (“We’re prepared”), geopolitical and economic uncertainly (“I’m more an optimist than a pessimist”) and outlined plans to take the marque electric (“It fits well with the Rolls-Royce brand”).

He’d arrived in Melbourne feeling slightly under the weather after picking up a bug during three weeks of dealership visits through Japan, Korea and Singapore. Luckily, he has family to take care of him here – a sister lives in Melbourne. Even if he felt up to it, it was unlikely the keen sportsman would have found time to indulge his passion for fly fishing during his three-day stay. It may have been the perfect salve for his ills and reward for his efforts.

‘Every single car is hand-built over 800 hours. We are not a robotized plant. Everything is built by hand. Everything.’

Last year, Müller-Ötvös steered Rolls-Royce to a historic business record, achieving its highest annual sales in the marque’s 115-year history. The success came largely from the new Phantom, which accounted for 20 per cent of all cars sold, while women made an impact, too, with their purchases of the Wraith fastback coupe and Dawn convertible. Over the year, he says the group delivered more than 4100 cars to customers in more than 50 countries, achieving year-on-year sales growth in all regions, including Australia and New Zealand.

That’s quite the lift from the 1000 cars Rolls-Royce was producing at its Goodwood facility in the UK nine years ago when Müller-Ötvös first joined the company following a long stint with BMW Group (which owns Rolls-Royce Motor Cars).He’s also overseen a significant rise in the number of women buying his cars, from virtually zero five or six years ago to 15 per cent globally today.

Profitability for the brand generally and the Spirit of Ecstasy’s allure to the female buyer specifically are likely to improve still further this year with the roll out of the much-anticipated Cullinan. Goodwood had to employ an extra 200 people to meet customer demand for the SUV, with orders stretching into the fourth quarter of this year.

Müller-Ötvös says SUVs may be super-popular with women for many reasons, but Cullinan is the first Rolls-Royce people have described as “a very practical car”.

“The customer reaction has been great, and we’re seeing lots of clients [60 per cent of Cullinan buyers are] new to the brand,” Müller-Ötvös says. Regardless of demand for the vehicle – which is priced in Australia at $685,000 before options – Rolls-Royce will not be upping production.

“There’s no chance to expand production at Goodwood because of its position sitting in an area of natural beauty,” he says, describing the situation as “an in-built guarantee of exclusivity”. So, we won’t see another manufacturing facility built elsewhere in the world to help spread the load? “I think RR belongs to Britain,” he says. “Full-stop.”

Besides, that level of perfection is impossible replicate. “It took 20 years to build the capability for making that level of craftsmanship [at Goodwood],” he says. “Every single car is hand-built over 800 hours. We are not a robotized plant. Everything is built by hand. Everything.”

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luxury car

It’s a hallmark of how a true luxury brand should be managed.”Our business model focuses on preserving the rarity of our products, which is a key demand of our customers. It’s not about volume.”

The next phase in the company trajectory will see it deliberately bypass hybrid technology and shift straight to electrification, which Müller-Ötvös says will happen in the next decade.That decision to skip hybrid power is all about China which, like other countries, will ban cars using that technology from city centers because they’ll still use internal combustion engines.“Hybrid is not a sustainable long-term investment,” he says. “The future is electric. If you want to participate in the Chinese market – and everybody wants to do that – then you need [to be] fully electric.”

Electric technology fits well with the Rolls-Royce brand in that it’s silent and very powerful, he says.“Rolls-Royce is all about torque. Our engines are the most torquey engines on the planet.” EVs will be introduced through a transition phase at Rolls-Royce which will be driven by customer response.

“We’ll roll it out step by step and [it will depend] on what kind of reactions we see with the first car, and so on. We’ll go with the flow.”Müller-Ötvös is also committed to ensuring the V12 stays in the Rolls-Royce mix “for as long as possible”.“Our customers love the 12 cylinder. It’s a beautiful masterpiece, like a very complicated wrist watch. The more complications there are in a watch, the more precious it is.”

So it makes sense autonomous functionality won’t be made available in his cars until the technology is at an appropriate level. In his mind, that means at Level 4 autonomy in a globally defined band from levels 1-5, with Level 1 being the most basic and Level 5 being the most advanced.“Autonomous is when you switch off your mind, when you relax, when you read a book, and when the car drives itself. That’s when I think the technology is right for us to introduced in our cars,” he says.

Which epitomizes the brand’s commitment to maintaining the masterpiece. “A Rolls-Royce needs to be a proposition which is super-convincing, involving not a single compromise on any single detail,” he says. “Rolls-Royce is all about perfection in every single way. This car is immaculate when it comes to the quality of materials we use and … it’s a super reliable, long-lasting, sustainable car.”

It’s no mistake that 75 per cent of all Rolls-Royces ever built are still on the road.“That’s what we are known for and that is what our customers continue to ask us for.”

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From The City To The Country In Porsche’s New Macan S

QANTAS’ Valet car park is home to a pretty impressive lineup of vehicles most days of the week. But when Porsche decides to use it as the start point of a drive event, things get switched up a notch. So it was early this week when Madam Wheels arrived at Melbourne Airport to join an Australian media launch of the brand’s medium-size SUV, the Macan S. A fleet of vehicles were lined up awaiting our inspection in the usual shades of silver and gun-metal grey along with a few pops of colour dubbed Miami Blue, Mamba Green, Carmine Red and a mahogany hue which might best be left on the palette board.

I was skeptical about the Macan when it was first introduced to Australia in 2014, believing like many others that it would dilute the brand’s rarified prestige sports-car allure. Whether it has or not remains a moot point because, not only did the Macan immediately become Porsche’s best-selling model by far, it appears to have single-handedly saved the brand from certain death. This was my opportunity to find out how.

 

Porsche’s chief drive instructor for the day explained during a pre-departure briefing that we’d be driving the Macan on varying road surfaces, often through unexpectedly sharp and tightening corners, and along roads which may at times entice us to drive beyond the posted speed limits. This was actively discouraged. It was disconcerting then to be introduced to the team’s paramedic who would be travelling in convoy with us. Just in case.

‘The model we experienced constitutes a face-lift rather than a full-blown make-over. Still, you can option it with what sound like paparazzi-proof windows.’

Our destination was the award-winning Mitchelton Winery, at Nagambie, just over 100 km north of Melbourne. Already an established and highly regarded architectural icon in its own right, owners Gerry Harvey, of Jayco Caravans, and his son, Andy, added a hotel to the site last year in an effort to boost tourism to the Goulburn Valley. The resulting ultra-sleek digs by architects Hecker Guthrie, though modern, respect the heritage of the winery and blend harmoniously with the surrounding Australian bush land. The hotel is also cleverly positioned to take advantage of spectacular views over an aesthetically-pleasing pool towards a bend in the Goulburn River. We drove along a meandering route that had been pre-installed into our cars’ navigation system. This was displayed on an up sized 10.9-inch touch screen which runs the usual suite of in-car features as part of Porsche’s Communication Management system. While potentially tricky to get across at first, the system quickly becomes fairly intuitive.

Winding our way through gum trees along narrow country roads, the Macan had the chance to really hit its stride to reveal levels of road handling and precision one would expect of the high-end sports-car brand. The model we experienced constitutes a face-lift to the Macan, so isn’t a full-blown make-over of the car introduced here in 2014. Still, you can option it with what sound like paparazzi-proof windows that provide way more than simple privacy glass. These day they can be sound-proofed and UV-proofed as well to help keep all the unwanted attention and interference at bay.

Not surprisingly the Macan S is powerful, with a new three-litre, turbo-charged V6 engine first devised for the brand’s four-door Panamera. It’s since been integrated into the large Cayenne SUV, too, so has been tried and tested in the pricier high-performance models and obviously received the big tick.Inside, it’s spacious and comfortable, with 14-way adjustable seats standard. You can swap in 18-way adaptive electric sports seats to the front for another $790. Those who find the interior functional rather than beautiful might consider the additional trim finishes and decorative seat stitching package ($10,790).

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I quite liked the optional GT sports steering wheel that was in the car I drove ($1320, with heating), which included not only a four-range drive-mode switch but also a rather fabulous centrally located Sport Response button (part of an optional Sport Chrono Package $2790). Push it, and the engine’s maximum available performance kicks in, providing an instant-response boost that runs for 20 seconds. It makes overtaking a snap, which is terrific provided you adhere to that bit about staying within the legal speed limit. Good luck with that, though, and be wary of it because you will get booked for speeding even while overtaking. It’s the law until Australia gets Autobahns, and we all know that’s not going to happen any time soon, sadly.

Porsche’s marketing people describe the Macan as the sportiest car in its class, which sounds about right given the competition – probably the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audi Q5. The latter’s “Black Edit” sports variant feels like the one closest to matching the look and feel of the Macan S package, and it’s about $7000 less expensive. Annoyingly, though, the Macan offers only two colours as standard – black and white. Everything else costs more – $1990 for the Mamba Green on my car, while the Carmine Red or Miami Blue “special colours” also seen here add $5800 to the build cost.

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That night, dinner was served in Mitchelton’s bespoke underground cellar which is said to be part of the largest subterranean wine cellaring system in Australia with space enough for three football fields. It didn’t surprise, then, that the path to the loo was a long one but it had an unexpected bonus along the way, leading through a candle-lit stone passageway to a cavernous gallery of contemporary Indigenous art.

Overnight rain had applied a slick film to the roads so, as we took off the next morning, it was good to know Porsche’s optional Torque Vectoring Plus system was on board. This system will become your best friend if you’re into dynamic cornering, improving stability and control on roads with different levels of grip, as well as in the rain or snow.

There are only two cars in the Porsche model line-up that sell for under $100,000 – the Macan and Macan S. The most accessible price-point of $81,400 makes the entry-level Macan available to car buyers who may never have considered themselves as Porsche owners. Which was exactly the point, as it turns out. Porsche had to make an SUV to keep all those 911 buyers in the Porsche family rather than watching them peel off to competitor brands when their own families expanded and their wives started asking for an SUV – Australia’s most popular car of choice these days. As mentioned, that move put Porsche Cars Australia back in the game, moving from a company which, in the late 1990s, used to celebrate if it sold more than 500 cars a year to shifting 4484 cars in 2017 – more than half of them (2478) Macans

So, overall, I’d rate the Macan S as serious but great fun to be in. It’s a high-tech car that’s easy to drive but hard on the wallet given what extras you need to buy in on top of its $97,000 price tag, before on-road costs.

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Are you sitting comfortably?

MADAM Wheels’ review of the 2019 Porsche Macan S tells us that it now has 14-way powered seats. Fourteen. Someone is showing off. Let’s see if we can guess what each of those 14 options is.

 

1. Forwards.

 

2. Backwards.

 

So far, so obvious. And I’m assuming that forwards and backwards are counted as two separate directions, rather than as a single plane of adjustment. After all, what use is a seat that only moves forwards? Let us press on.

 

3. Tilt (forwards – or whatever it’s called when the front edge of the seat tips towards the pedals).

‘I’d go back in time about five years to tell Porsche’s designers and engineers that we do not need 14 different seat adjustment options, powered or not.’

 

4. Tilt (backwards – or whatever it’s called when the front edge of the seat tips towards the roof)

 

5. Seat back (recline).

 

6. Seat back (the opposite of recline).

 

7. Seat height (up – vertically).

 

8. Seat height (down – also vertically).

 

That’s eight, I’ve run out of ideas, and there’s still six different directions Porsche has dreamed up for a single seat to move. So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt here:

 

10. Lumbar support (in).

 

Clutching at straws a bit, but anyway.

 

11. Headrest (up).

 

12. Headrest (down).

I think the manufacturer is really trying a bit too hard, unless the two remaining options are:


13. Forwards (in time).


14. Backwards (in time).


But I bet they’re not.


If they are, then I’d use the backwards (in time) option to go back about five years to tell Porsche’s designers and engineers that we do not need 14 different seat adjustment options, powered or not.


But in one of those delicious time-travel paradoxes, if I were to go back in time to tell them that, and they eliminated the more esoteric options including time-travel, then by definition I’d be unable to use the time-travel option to go back in time to tell them that we do not need 14 different seat adjustment options.


So we’d end up with 14 different seat adjustment options, including time-travel, and I could go back in time … you see what I’m getting at. All time-travel scenarios seem to involve the same sort of internal contradictions.


Time traveling in a car would be a curious phenomenon. You could drive to where you want to go and then travel back in time the exact duration of your journey, so you’d arrive the same time you left – or earlier, if you’d prefer. You could do a road-trip around Australia in literally no time. You’d never be late arriving anywhere. And with at least 12 other seat adjustment options at your fingertips, you’d arrive anywhere, anytime, presumably relaxed and in comfort.


Thinking about time travel reminds me of two things I’ve read about it. The first, the demonstrators demanding that time travel be invented: “What do we want? Time travel! When do we want it? That’s irrelevant!”.And the second: How do we know time travel will never be invented? Because when The Beatles played their first gig at The Cavern in Liverpool, the venue, though tiny, wasn’t even full. Think about that one.


I bet the real 13th and 14th adjustments on the Macan’s seats are to the bits that slide out under your legs behind your knees – squabs, I think they’re called. It’s a lot less interesting than travelling in time, but probably more within Porsche’s current engineering capabilities.